Monday, July 12, 2010

RWA National Virgins

Only sixteen days left before this year's RWA National meeting kicks off in Orlando on the 28th! I was a Nationals virgin last year. A few weeks before the meeting, my nerves and doubts were kicking into high gear. What in the hell was I thinking, registering for the quintessential meeting of romance writers when I wasn't even published? I imagined getting curious side-glances and getting laughed at. It didn't happen. In fact, I came out of it feeling like the mother community of romance writers had taken me under her wing.

Cutting to the chase, I have a list of things that made my first Nationals meeting all the better (I'm not going to tell you how to pack your suitcase). It's geared for both virgins and veterans, so don't click that mouse!
  • First off, throw your shoulders back and doubts out the door. Chant I am a writer and I have the be at the meeting, that is. If they didn't expect virgins, they wouldn't have special 'First Timer' badges made and workshops on learning the craft of writing. Go with confidence (this coming from a shy person).
  • Smile and say hello. I had a huge time gap between checking in on my first day and waiting for the Literacy Autographing to start. I lingered in the lobby watching groups of attendees chatting and laughing like old friends (which they may have been). Walking up and introducing oneself to a group is easier said than done, unless your a super extrovert, which I'm not. Instead, I mustered up the courage to say hello to others wearing 'First Timer' badges. I'll admit, most said hello, but didn't linger to talk for more than thirty seconds. However, one did stay. We buddied up to go to the Autographing and stayed in touch, not only for the rest of the meeting, but for the entire year since. You never know where one 'hello' will take you. I gained the wonderful and supportive friendship of a fellow writer.
  • For all you veterans, reach out! I plan to this year. Last year, I mentioned on a blog comment that I'd be going for the first time, and a published writer reached out. She invited me to email her, she set up a time to meet her for dinner at the meeting, and she introduced me to another first timer from her RWA chapter. Just knowing that I'd 'met' someone, albeit not in person, before getting to the meeting made all the difference. When you see a first timer, introduce yourself. Say something in passing like, "You'll love this meeting." or "So and so is a great speaker." or "Hey, any questions?" Trust me, they'll appreciate it.
  • Attend the First Timers orientation. It's worth it. You'll quickly lose any sense of being the only virgin there. It's also an easy place to buddy up with other first timers.
  • I bought an extra large black purse. It looked almost like my standard one only it was large enough (tote-like) to carry my notebook, pen, handouts, goodies from the goody room and any books I picked up along the way. RWA did give us big bags which I loaded at the Autographing, but after that I wanted to consolidate. One big purse did it for me.
  • DO take a notebook to the workshops. Yes, the lectures are recorded and can be bought (recommended), but I like taking notes, and it's easier to reference specific things that stood out to you.
  • Layer or take a sweater. Enough said.
  • Keep some nuts, a bar or an apple in your purse for an emergency energy fix. You don't want your tummy rumbling during workshops.
  • Unless you're planning to leave a workshop early, sit up front. It's easier to hear, see the overheads, and some lecturers reward front row dare devils. Don't say I didn't tell you.
  • If you've completed a manuscript, prepare an elevator pitch and practice it. Be able to answer "So what's your book about?" without fumbling for words. I got asked the question by a published writer. Lack of enough practice mixed with nerves had me sounding like Eliza Doolittle with a mouth full of marbles. Thank God my victim was a sympathetic author and not an agent or editor. Don't be scared, be prepared.
  • Resist the urge to hide in your room. Go to the luncheons even if you're not eating. The speakers are so worth it. Check out the Literacy Autographing, the Goody Room, and other events so that you'll know what they're all about the following year. Get the full RWA experience.
  • Veterans, volunteer. Virgins can too, although I'll admit that I didn't. I was too overwhelmed with all the workshops and events and I was afraid to overextend myself. This year, I'll be a Literacy attendant and a moderator. Volunteering is a great way to network, reach out, and give back.
  • Be professional and don't gossip. My mom used to tell me 'The walls can hear'. Yes, well, so can the decorative planters, blind corners, and bathroom stalls. If it ain't nice, don't say it, unless you want to ruin your career. If you're with someone who's badmouthing an agent, editor, lecturer, fellow writer or anyone for that matter, excuse yourself. If you're in the middle of lunch and can't, then politely speak up and state your 'positive' opinion so that tuned in ears know that you're not guilty by association.
  • Raise your hand and ask questions. Stay on the workshop's subject, of course, but you've got all these experts at your fingertips. Don't be so shy as to pass up a golden opportunity.
  • Relax and enjoy! RWA Nationals is romance writer heaven!
I could go on, but I wouldn't want you to miss your flight in sixteen days. Just kidding. If you can't make it to Nationals, try to make it to a local chapter meeting at least once. Entering contests is a great experience with many benefits (that's another blog topic), but if I had to choose between dollars spent on contests and saving up to go to Nationals, I'd go to Nationals. Published or not, the experience will wash away any doubts that you are a writer and it'll set you many steps ahead.

Calling all veterans! Any more advice on attending RWA Nationals?


  1. Only 16 days!! OMG! Awesome advice as always, Rula. I'd like to also emphasize the importance of the first timers orientation. I researched a lot before I went to DC last year (yeah, I was a virgin then too), but the one thing it did was show me I wasn't the only person there for the first time. I too saw all the people chatting and hugging and greeting each other. Everyone seemed to know someone except me! Of course, that's not the case. I certainly didn't feel like I belonged or had the right to be there either. The feeling did ebate throughout the conference, but when I first arrived I thought 'what the heck am I doing here?'. You do need to go out of your way to make eye contact, smile and chat. Assume everyone's friendly and interested. In my experience, they were. I'll also be on the lookout for the 'first timers' ribbons and I'll be sure to say hello!

  2. Hey Kaily! I can't wait to see you there. Hard to believe it has been an entire year!

  3. Eek. I think I just lost my comment. Hope it doesn't double post.

    Anyway, I think your list is so complete. I wish I were going this year so I could meet you!

    I have one little tip. Read name badges. At my first conference 3 years ago, I couldn't believe how many "famous" people walked around just as if they were ordinary, everyday writers like me. That year I chatted with Susan Elizabeth Phillips and met Julia Quinn, two of my writing heroes.

    The elevator is a great place to get in a quick introduction. RWA really is full of warm, friendly folks.

    Have fun!!

  4. Great point, Ellen! Finding yourself amongst so many 'stars' is inspirational, tummy-twirling, and grounding all at once.

    I remember leaving Nationals last year completely wowed by how warm and friendly everyone was. I'm bummed that you won't be there. I'll try to post pics and give the low down when I get back!